Is There a Difference Between Wire and Mail Fraud?

If you've been following news concerning the college admissions scandal, you might be aware that two of the most famous people attached to the scam – Lori Laughlin and Mossimo Giannulli – recently pleaded guilty to federal charges. The two had allegedly emailed photos of their daughters using rowing machines to create profiles of them as members of a crew team. However, neither of them actually played the sport. They also maintained email contact with the alleged mastermind behind the scheme, receiving updates about their daughters' acceptance to USC as prospective crew team members.

Loughlin and Giannulli will be sentenced for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud. So what are these two crimes and are they different offenses?

The Similarities Between Mail and Wire Fraud

Under federal law, mail fraud and wire fraud are two separate crimes. That being said, they do have their similarities.

The U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Resource Manual notes that "the elements of wire fraud under Section 1343 directly parallel those of the mail fraud statute..." Generally, both offenses involve participating in a scheme to defraud to obtain something of value or benefit. Additionally, the scheme is furthered by the use of some type of system – wire or mail.

Also, both mail fraud and wire fraud come with a maximum 20-year prison sentence and a steep fine.

The Differences Between Mail and Wire Fraud

Where mail fraud and wire fraud differ is in the system used to commit the offense.

As the name suggests, mail fraud occurs when someone uses a mail system to further a scheme. That can involve the use of the U.S. Postal Service or a private or commercial carrier, such as FedEx.

What this means is that if someone commits or attempts to commit fraud by getting their kids into a school by providing false statements and they mail application materials, checks, or other documents to either the school or other people involved in the scam, they are committing mail fraud.

The above is just one example of mail fraud. Various types of conduct can be charged under federal law, such as:

  • Lottery or sweepstakes fraud
  • Employment fraud
  • Inheritance fraud
  • Telemarketing fraud (where the scam originated through letters sent by mail)
  • Fraud against the elderly

Wire fraud is different from mail fraud in that the method of furthering the scheme is by wired communications. Technically, anything that transmits information electronically, such as a fax, email, or social media message, and is used to commit fraud can be considered a wired system.

Another way that wire fraud differs from mail fraud is that, with wire fraud, the information must be transmitted through interstate communications. Meaning it must cross state lines. For instance, a person in Iowa sending an email to someone in New York is using interstate communication.

With mail fraud, the information does not have to be sent between states. As long as the U.S.P.S. or other carrier is used, even if the communication is between two people in Iowa, an act to further a fraud scheme is considered mail fraud.

At Keegan, Tindal & Jaeger, our Iowa City and Davenport attorneys provide the aggressive defense in serious criminal matters. If you've been accused of a federal crime, call us at (319) 499-5524 or contact us online today.